Spoil islands in Little Sarasota Bay the focus of County Commission presentation
By Rachel Brown Hackney
The restoration of a spoil island in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) — near the area of Siesta Key where Midnight Pass once flowed — is scheduled to get underway once again this fall, Sarasota County staff has told the County Commission.
If the solicitation process goes as planned, the final work at Palmer Point Park should start by late fall, Spencer Anderson, a senior manager in the county’s Public Works Department, told the commissioners’ during an April 27 review of penny surtax projects for the next five fiscal years.
Palmer Point Park is on the north end of Casey Key.
Although efforts to restore other spoil islands in the ICW won little public support several years ago — including plans for Big Edwards and Little Edwards islands — staff is hopeful that after Palmer Point Park has been completed, interest in other projects will be sparked, Anderson explained.
The Bird Colony Islands were upgraded in 2008, he noted, and work on Snake Island was completed by the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND) in 2014.
The goal with each project, according to a slide Anderson presented on April 27, is to restore degraded coastal habitat, provide additional recreational activities for the public in terms of fishing and boating opportunities, create improved habitats for fisheries and wildlife, and create “important amenities for commercial and ectotourism benefit.”
The 2017 fiscal year budget includes $100,000 for the Palmer Point Park project from the Surtax III fund; that was created through voter approval of a penny tax in 2007 for specific county projects. Another $2.3 million has been set aside for initiatives in the 2019 fiscal year, the slide showed.
In May 2011, the County Commission authorized a $559,650 contract with Tampa Contracting Services Inc. to remove and dispose of exotic vegetation; excavate and grade dredge spoil material; transport the excavated material; and supply and plant wetland and upland vegetation on the southeastern section of Palmer Point Park, staff documentation shows. It was the first spoil islands restoration project designed to improve water quality in that Little Sarasota Bay, returning the body of water to the level of health it enjoyed before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the Intracoastal Waterway in the 1960s.
However, a resulting dispute with the contractor over a sediment management plan for the dredge material from the project led to its cessation before it could be completed, staff explained to the commission in November 2011.
In regard to the Big and Little Edwards islands projects — plus plans for the Jim Neville Marine Preserve — Commissioner Carolyn Mason told Anderson on April 27, “Those three created quite a firestorm for residents, as Commissioner [Christine] Robinson can attest to. It will be interesting to see whether folks want us to move forward [with them].”
At least, according to Anderson’s tentative timeline, she and Robinson no longer would be on the board, Mason stated. (Both are stepping down this fall because of term limits.)
When Robinson asked for more details about the Palmer Point Park initiative, Anderson said the plan is to have that begin within the next six months.
“Where is the staging area for that?” she asked.
It will be on the east side of Siesta Drive, across from Nora Patterson Bay Island Park, he replied.
When Robinson asked whether the nearby residents have been notified of the plans, Anderson told her, “There will be and there has been [resident notification and outreach]. … There aren’t any directly affected residents.”
County staff is coordinating with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to use its right of way at the north Siesta Drive bridge, Anderson noted. Trucks carrying the dredge material will use Siesta Drive to access U.S. 41, he added.
Previously, the plan called for bringing the material by barge on the ICW to Warf Road and trucking it through the Vamo Road neighborhood, Anderson explained, “and that did create quite a lack of support from the local area, and we eventually did not proceed with that …”
When Robinson asked for clarification about the staging area for the completion of the project, Anderson explained that it would be on the east side of the Siesta Drive bridge.
“Our staging has been difficult [for residents] to deal with, with these spoil islands,” Robinson told him. “I’ll be surprised if this goes smoothly,” she added with what an observer might have described as a wry chuckle. “When is this going to start? November ?” Robinson laughed and looked at Mason.
"Fall is when we anticipate construction to begin,” Anderson replied, if the solicitation process is completed within the next 30 to 45 days.
“Late fall sounds great,” Robinson said, prompting more of what might be characterized as wry laughter among the commissioners.